Community responds to Bus Rapid Transit on Ashland public meetings: Friday last day to submit your comments

Date: 
12/19/2013
Responders

People filling out response comment cards at the CTA's Pulaski Park Public Meeting

"We have possibly hurt ourselves by talking about this project [Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Ashland] for too long," said Peter Skosey, Executive Vice President of the Metropolitan Planning Council on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight," Dec. 11, which was the second night of public meetings about the Environmental Assessment (EA)document. Promised for September and delivered on Nov. 19, the document must be responded to by 4:30 p.m. on Fri., Dec. 20. Send your comments on the project to their email.

MikeStoll

Mike Stoll, who lives in the area and is on the streets as a cab driver 12 hours a day, questions traffic numbers

While almost everyone who talks about BRT agrees with the concept of Bus Rapid Transit, moving more people faster on public transportation, many go beyond Skosey's comment about timing. They have expressed concern about what data is to be collected, the process of collecting the data, the interpretation of the data collected and the response to public questions about what they have been told about the proposed plans.

Public events
The public meetings were heavily populated by Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) representatives, contractors who collected and/or worked with the data modeling and representatives of other entities involved with the project.

Physically the set up was very much like the Bloomingdale Trail (The 606) public meetings. Statements and maps relating the information in the EA with counts of traffic were mounted on "boards" placed on easels. A long image of the route was provided so people could put notes on specific points where they had issues.

Opponents object to project process
Comments from opponents of the project to date include that:

  • The process to determine Ashland as the route was flawed
  • Express bus consideration was discounted based on comments from only 100 people
  • The configuration of the proposed BRT on Ashland was made without proper vetting
  • The impact is far greater than "studied" and claimed because the impact area is much greater than 200 feet on either side of Ashland for:
    • having only one lane of vehicle traffic in each direction that will be shared by the regular bus that will continue to run along the curb
    • having none to a minimum number of left turns
    • having cross streets closed off
  • There is distrust of using the CMAP data for modeling because they do not feel that it adequately matches reality for one of only three streets that run the entire distance of the City from north to south.
  • The reason EA was presented in the middle of the holiday season is to have less response from the public

Responses to presentation content
While three people at the Dec. 11 meeting in Pulaski Park expressed enthusiasm for the project to me, many of the people this reporter heard or talked with expressed disappointment in not seeing what they expected to see. Many expected that there were going to be answers to questions and concerns expressed months ago. Others were beyond disappointed. They were  frustrated and in some cases angry.

ThreeFriends

Jacob Peters, Josh Rosenblueh and Lauren Whitehurst talk about the plan

Supporters
Three friends, Jacob Peters, Lauren Whitehurst and Josh Rosenblueh are all enthusiastic and excited about the BRT on Ashland because it will facilitate their travels from their respective locations in the Logan Square and Ukrainian Village areas up and down Ashland to the Pilsen area easier and faster.

Peters also pointed out that people are commenting negatively on the project's design but, "They are not in the design phase. So I'm here to make sure that we get in our public comments in and get a good design." 

"I don't take the Ashland bus as much as I would if it were the BRT, if it made the time faster and reliable," said Rosenblueh. "I would probably go north to at least Belmont if the service was faster.

"This is the most efficient way to improve transit in an area that is going to desperately need the improvement over the next 10 to 15 years. So things are not great now but they are going to be much worse as population increases and we have to make sure transit is ready to deal with those increases."

"I take the Ashland bus occasionally but it is not as convenient or as reliable as the train," said Whitehurst. "I am very excited about the possibility of the BRT. "This evening has been very informative and interesting for me. I have found that there are very informed people who have answered my questions. The interactive maps have been helpful. I've listened to conversations of others who are not for the BRT. They have some valid points for those who drive and don't take public trans. 

"The idea that you need more left turns, I think is valid. It seems that they understand that but they are not in that part of the process yet. I think it is going to be interesting to see it get to the nuts and bolts of the project. I work for an architectural firm in the City so I am interested in how it will be built up, not just in diagram form.

KOMalley

Kevin O'Malley, representing the CTA, was explaining the left-turn concept

"I am anxious to see if the map, where they show the traffic, will be expanded to show the impact on other things like biking on other streets."

Opposition
While SSA #33 supports the BRT in their Master Plan, "they have issues with this particular plan," said Jessica Wobbekind, SSA #33's Program Manager. "The issues include parking, loading zones and residential traffic." In defense of the CTA process, she points out that the project cannot release any further information or changes until after they complete these meetings. 

However, some of the increased criticism appears in part because spokespeople for the project repeatedly stated that the EA would provide answers to many questions asked at the late summer/early fall meetings. That was interpreted as addressing new issues addressed at those meetings. The CTA people were saying that they would have numbers based on their original points. 

Reactions of people at the Dec. 11 meeting ranged from totally in opposition through disgust because "This is a dog and pony show, not a public meeting  where everyone can ask a question and everyone hears the answer." to "The plan needs some changes." Some people who initially were favorable about BRT on Ashland are beginning to see that there are problems with a center lane BRT on Ashland Ave.

JohnsonPfingsten

Sandy Johnson, Bucktown resident, and Stacey Pfingsten from Alderman Fioretti's office look at the EA

"Horrible [plan], one of the worst I've ever seen. It will completely decimate the traffic patterns in and around already over-congested neighborhoods such as Bucktown, Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village and University Village," said Sandy Johnson from Bucktown. "They want to divert traffic to other streets which will mean that they will be cutting down side streets and our communities will be overtaken by traffic

"I bought a home not a place to have people driving by all day. I asked why it is that people at the meetings say 'no' and yet these events seem to indicate more and more that we are going to get it whether we want it or not. I don't like this top-down attitude. The city seems to think it is important to oppress its citizens with things we don't want. I am not against the bikers or the drivers, I am both."

SGoodreau

Steve Goodreau, CDM Smith, answers questions

Also concerned about traffic diversion was Gwen Ruiz who questioned Steve Goodreau of CDM Smith, a project partner who worked on collection and data interpretation. She asked whether they looked at cars coming off of the Kennedy Expressway at Ogden, going along Huron to neighborhoods to the west, like Ukrainian Village and Wicker Park. He indicated they have not and encouraged her to mark it on the interactive map or give that in her written comments.

"Always we are told that we'll get answers in the next step. The structure that was used for this public meeting gave me the perception that what I was told or heard varies from other people. I am concerned that we will have different understandings," said Lyn Wolfson, President, Chicago Grand Neighbors Assn."

"I asked how they are tracking the comments. I was told that they're going to use spreadsheets to track and evaluate the comments but they are waiting until the meetings are over before they do that," she said with a sense of skepticism in her voice about how this would give an accurate view of what people said.

To clarify this point, this reporter contacted Lambrini Lukidis, CTA media representative. She provided several pieces of information:

  • All comments from email, mail and given to court reporters will be categorized based on the points in the EA. If they are not directly related to an EA point, they will still be recorded.
  • Unlike the comments at the neighborhood meetings, these are official and recorded comments
  • All comment groupings will be recorded and must be shown. The mitigation must also be recorded for the FTA and can cause an adjustment to the plan.
  • Conceptual comments that have been identified before and now have been and will continue to be considered. (Example is left-hand turn which will be added.)
  • CTA has a tradition of going beyond Federal requirements in engaging the public. ("The CTA is doing things for the people not to the people.")
  • This is still the concept part of the three-part phase of this project. Design comes next.
  • Throughout all phases, they evaluate and modify based on feedback.
    WahlIacobucci

    Joe Iacobucci responds to Suzi Wahl's questions


Traffic impact
There were many questions about counts of passengers and cars along Ashland Ave.

According to modeling and direct counts, says Joe Iacobucci, CTA, there are an average of 34,000 cars on Ashland in a 24-hour period with an average congestion rate daily of 35%.

Ukrainian Village resident Suzanne (Suzi) Wahl says:

"Traffic Diversion: During Rush Hour (a.m. and p.m.), the traffic diversion off of Ashland raises to 50%. Yes, fifty percent.  I made him repeat this 3 times. Though the average remains at 35% throughout the day, the rush hour times are at 50% diversion.  Unacceptable to those of us who live on side streets and/or dare to drive/live on/have a business on/near Ashland.  

"Comparison of BRT to Webster Avenue New York City: Joe Iacobucci, again, in front of witnesses/reporters, is telling constituents that NYC 'successfully implemented BRT on Webster Avenue and closed one lane of traffic.' Sounds almost appealing until you see a picture of Webster Avenue’s SBS (Select Bus Service). Do you notice anything different from the Ashland BRT? 

      1. The NYC bus is right-lane running, which is completely different from a center running BRT lane.  Main difference: in the right parking lane / truck loading zone, there is only the SBS which will stop for parking cars, not a lane of traffic.  The lane of traffic will be consistently moving.
      2. No platform: so if this idea does not work, just paint over the bus lanes and you are done.  Minor infrastructure changes, and I am sure (don’t even have to check this one) the per mile cost is at least 50%  lower than BRT.

Business involvement
Citing a comment from CostCo, who recently opened a new location at 14th St., as saying that they have never been contacted  about this project, "Weren't businesses contacted about this," asked Marin of Skosey. Considering that people make purchases of big items that they could not handle on a bus.

Skosey said that the project to date is a concept phase that many people have heard about. However only now are they getting to the outreach phase in designing.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) also on the show said that CostCo, after investing millions of dollars in this site are now being told that there will be no left turn into their location.

Skosey said that these meetings were intended for September but were held up because of the Federal government shutdown.

Prior to these public meetings several businesses did begin looking at how they were going to be impacted and how they might minimize it.

Safety concerns
Issues of safety ranged from the rate of accidents at left-turn intersections to on board safety. It was stated that all CTA buses are equipped with cameras.

Interactivemap

Interactive map allowed people to place their comments on the map at the site of their issue

Next Steps
In the second of three phases, the next phases are:

  • Comments will inform the next phase of design.
  • Comments and responses will become part of the final EA, which will be available on CTA’s website.
  • Detailed design will begin on the first 5.4-mile segment (Phase 1). Concept designs will be refined based on additional technical analysis and community input.
  • CTA and CDOT will hold additional public meetings as part of the next phase of design

Funding
The $10 million-a-mile required to build the BRT on Ashland is not in place. It is expected that the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) Small Starts program will be the primary source. According to Joe Iacobucci, CTA, this could provide funding of $25-250 million and locally there would probably be a 20% match required. Such funding is not possible, however, until the project has gone through several more phases as explained by the FTA***.  

Iacobucci did say at the Dec. 11 meeting that the match can be covered by CTA funds that are regularly established for equipment. Thus the new buses with doors on both sides of the vehicle would come from the established budget line items.

As has been pointed out in many meetings over the last few months, none of this funding addresses costs for areas that will be impacted by the route beyond the 200 feet on either side.

Cardenas is among 20** alderman whose wards are affected by the BRT, according to Carol Marin. Cardenas indicated that 5 to 6 are not in favor of this BRT. He listed many other projects on which the City should be spending money.

Wrap up
Read the Environmental Assessment document, write and send your email to the project BEFORE FRIDAY AT 4:30 p.m. Then stay tuned. It will be a long journey before "the fat lady sings!"

**Originally read as 20 being opposed. Apologize for an error in my notes

***Link is no longer available (1/15/2014)

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Comments

Very nice write up.One of

Very nice write up. One of the difficulties with a project like this is that its impacts go way beyond the locale of the project itself. The loss of left-turns or the loss of a driving lane have ripple effects beyond the BRT itself. Proponents will argue that what is true of the losses is true of the gains as well, faster times on all the connecting buses or that drivers who switch to the BRT will be unclogging all the streets they would have driven on besides Ashland. The concern about spending a lot of money on stations that then get torn up if the BRT is a flop raises the interesting possibility of prefabricated stations that are towed to the site for permanent installation. Then if it's a flop they are towed away or if it's a grand success they can be replaced with cement ones and the pre-fab ones reused in the Western Avenue trial.

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